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Sustaining Philanthropy Through a Crisis

Steve Winesett
Published:  03/24/2020

This post is part of our special series on fundraising during crisis and represents the opinions of an AHP affiliate.


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Amid the current crisis, sustaining philanthropy is on the mind of every development professional. As the world seemingly spins faster than ever and media peppers us hourly with information, many who work in the world of philanthropy are wondering how to sustain philanthropy moving forward.  

Our experience has shown that having a framework in which to consider this challenge and determine a communication plan is helpful. We offer the following as an option for a framework.    

Philanthropy will Continue

While philanthropic support may slow in the short term just as it did during crises of 1987, 2001, and 2008, it is not going to stop. We live on a continent where philanthropy is irremovable, where helping others is woven deeply and inextricably into our hearts and lives. In fact, there are already examples where generous people are stepping forward with gifts in this crisis. 

Starting from the premise that philanthropy will prevail, based on decades of history, is a good place from which to begin. 

Philanthropy is based on relationships. Knowing that philanthropy will be an integral part of whatever new normal emerges allows development professionals to take a long-term view of their relationships with their philanthropic partners. 

Engagement and Communication Are Crucial 

While relationships with donors are long-term propositions, immediate and effective communication is key to sustaining a relationship during a crisis. 

Creating a clear short-term communication strategy that identifies key message themes and determines how communications will be sent, the frequency in which they will be sent, and who will send them is an excellent strategy.  

Creating a plan helps fundraising programs resist reacting to the daily highs and lows of a crisis and instead, provides them with thoughtfully developed messages that reinforce their case for support, reinforce their partnership with donors, and reinforce the dramatic impact that philanthropic investment has on the lives of people in the community. 

Partners Provide Mutual Support 

One thing that is clear in this crisis is that we are all in this together. While social distancing may be a watchword for the physical necessities of the day, emotional distancing is not!  

Everyone is drawing closer to those they love and care about. The same can be true with our philanthropic partners. Now is a time to draw closer to them. This sort of approach illustrates respect for donors as valued partners and insiders, not just external funders, and will deepen relationships with those partners.  

Describing how the fundraising team is going to communicate with donors helps them know what to expect and acknowledges them as partners who are critical to the healthcare organization’s ability emerge on the other side of this crisis. 

Healthcare is at the epicenter of this crisis. Keeping donors updated about how the healthcare organization is a part of the solution reminds them of their role in being a part of the solution. 

Many feel helpless in this crisis. Reinforcing their role and that they are an integral part of the solution is powerful.  

Remember Internal Audiences 

Hospital leaders, board members, physicians, nurses, and other caregivers are being stretched to the brink. Finding ways to share stories of philanthropic partners who have invested in the institution (and will continue to invest in the institution!) will be encouraging. They may feel like they are in this battle alone; assure them they are not. The entire donor community is behind them! There may be no better time to remind these critical internal partners of the dedication and commitment that philanthropic investors have to them and their work. 


Once the dust settles, those healthcare organizations who have drawn closer to their philanthropic partners in this crisis will thrive sooner than those who have not.  

Those that help their leaders and caregivers understand the depth of commitment that philanthropic partners have to them will have deeper philanthropic cultures and more internal champions who understand the philanthropic process and want to participate in it.  

Now is a critical time to build or enhance the fundraising program’s skill to deeply and authentically engage with donors as well as create internal platforms and tools that allow the fundraising program to illustrate the impact of philanthropy to critical internal leaders and caregivers.   

BrookGlobal partners with healthcare organizations across North America to develop strategies to engage donors and critical internal audiences to grow and sustain philanthropy and build philanthropic culture and traditions. www.brookglobal.com 

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Meet The Author

Steve Winesett
Vice President, Sustainability Counsel

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